I recently returned from a trip to Australia, and we had some terrific landscape photography on the beach. I’ve never seen such interesting rocks, lichen and huge sea cliffs all packed into one trip. I really wanted to capture the dramatic, moody scenes along the beach. Anytime you are photographing the beach and ocean, the big question becomes what shutter speed do you use for the waves.
There is no right or wrong answer. The question becomes what feeling and mood are you trying to convey. If you use a fast shutter speed, say 1/1000, then you will freeze the water and spray, great for a dynamic action shot showing the power of the ocean. But I wanted to go the other direction and create more mystery than action.
For the image at top, I put on a Singh-Ray 5 stop ND filter and photographed using a shutter speed of six seconds. This allowed the waves to wash over the rocks and recede back into the ocean during the long exposure. I refer to this as the ‘Cotton effect’. Water just looks like featureless cotton, almost like mist…very tranquil.
For this shot I decided I wanted more texture and direction in the water. I still wanted lots of soft, silky water, but with a touch of clarity. For this image I shot at 1/2 second. I really like the mixture of soft water with textured water.
So what is the perfect shutter speed? It is up to you! Currently I really like around 1/2 second to 2 seconds, but it depends on the situation. Experiment on your own, and decide what you think is the perfect shutter speed for moving water.